Snakes on the Brain
Here’s the lowdown on the most anticipated film of the year.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Let’s get one thing straight: this is not a review of Snakes on a Plane. You won’t read many reviews of Samuel L. Jackson’s new action-flick-cum-Internet-wunderkind before it opens, because it hasn’t been screened for the press. But, dear readers, this particular critic braved Comic-Con, an annual comic book convention in San Diego, for roundtable interviews with Jackson and director David Ellis, and stuck around for 10 minutes of footage that the Snakes gang trotted out. But before we slither into it, a little recap for the uninitiated: What is Snakes on a Plane, and why are people talking about it? It’s a modestly budgeted action/horror movie featuring Jackson as an FBI agent trying to protect a witness on a jumbo jet full of 400 poisonous snakes.
That’s it. Snakes. On a plane. With Samuel L. Jackson. Sounds kinda dumb? Sure. And yet, this is the movie I get asked about the most. Because somewhere along the way, the Internet caught on to Snakes on a Plane, and the grassroots buzz that it generated—via satires, parodies, merchandise and an abiding love for Sam Jackson—has made Snakes one of the most anticipated pictures of the year. In fact, once New Line saw what was going on online, they shot new footage, upping the violence and nudity quotients for an R-rating, and let Jackson deliver his signature line (which is, for the record, “I’ve had enough of these motherf***ing snakes on this motherf***ing plane!”), which came straight from cyberspace.
“Somebody woke up,” Jackson said in our interview. “We’ve got the capability of showing snakes striking people, so do it. And there are certain things that are requirements for horror films. If two people go into the bathroom to join the mile-high club, you got to see the girl’s breast. That’s part of what people pay their money for. If you watch any film about kids who are out in the woods having sex, or kids who are in a haunted house having sex, or kids who are in a car having sex, you got to see a breast, that gratuitous breast, before the killer shows up. It just so happens this is a snake, and if it’s a snake, you got to see a snake on a t*t.”
Both Jackson and Ellis said audiences will be surprised—Snakes may be an action/horror movie, but it won’t actually be as bad as people expect. “What I want to do is prove to the people who are saying that this is going to be the best worst movie of the year that it actually is a really good movie,” said Ellis. “It’s a fun ride, it’s got great performances, it’s got humor, and you can go escape all the bullsh*t that’s happening in the world for an hour and a half and just have fun.”
So why not show it to the press ahead of time? Jackson, unsurprisingly, is blunt. “The only thing that can happen is that people will say bad things about it,” he said. “The people that love it know what they’re going to get when they come to the film. There’s no need for someone to see it and say, ‘Ooh, it’s just people getting bit by snakes on a plane.’ But that’s what it is. It doesn’t need to be reviewed. It doesn’t need ‘It’s great,’ ‘It’s horrible,’ ‘The snakes look cheesy.’ Who cares? It’s a 2006 Roger Corman movie.”
And that, according to Jackson, was the point of the whole thing—to make a Saturday-afternoon action picture. “It’s a real shame,” he said, “that a lot of people can’t seem to remember when they were kids and they went to a movie that didn’t necessarily have to be On the Waterfront or Gone With the Wind. You went to a movie to see the Wolfman chase people. Or big spiders jump out of stuff.”
OK, fine. But is Snakes any good? During the footage I saw, Jackson pulled the plane up from a nosedive, comforted Juliana Margulies, delivered a one-liner and killed snakes with a stun gun, a jury-rigged blowtorch and a spear gun. He was resoundingly badass. Plenty of his fellow passengers were bitten by a multitude of reptiles, and one poor sap was constricted by an anaconda. Still sounds dumb? Maybe, but the crowd went, to borrow from Jackson, motherf***ing wild. Was it the worst movie ever? No, but it ain’t high drama, either.
So let’s cut to the chase. Should you go see Snakes on a Plane? Having not seen the entire movie, I won’t go on record one way or the other. But if you’re going to fly those not-so-friendly skies, go opening weekend. Have a few drinks and see it with a packed, pumped-up house. At the very least, said Jackson, you know what you’re in for.
SNAKES ON A PLANE (Not reviewed this issue.)
Directed by David R. Ellis • Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kenan Thompson and Rachel Blanchard • R, 105 min • At the Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.